The algorithms, math, hardware, physics, engineering, computer science, and artificial intelligence behind breakthrough discoveries like those spearheaded by Elon Musk and his teams require a person to be emotionally, socially, and physically prepared for the failures and successes of attempting to reimagine and change our world.
I watched with great admiration as one of the most successful human beings of our time, possibly in all human history, cried at the thought of his heroes knocking him for pursuing his dreams. He teared up with profound sadness at their disapproval. The man I’m describing was Elon Musk during a 60 Minutes interview many years ago.
Tesla Motors, Hyperloop, SpaceX, Interplanetary Transport System (ITS), to name a few of his many accomplishments, are creating 100% electric vehicles and trucks, reusable space rockets, underground human transport pods moving at 200 mph, batteries to power an entire house, and planetary transport systems that aim to send one million people to populate Mars in the next 40-100 years. With all these ideas either happening or conceptualizing in his mind, something stirred deep inside Elon.
Yes, even the great Elon Musk was searching for emotional support. Moral support. He wanted his lifetime heroes to look at his work and say, “Yes AND…”
This goes to show that our pursuit of innovation requires not just intellect and curiosity, but our emotions, our sense of belonging, and the opportunity to contribute and have relevance. As a provider of out-of-school-time programs, After-School All-Stars has been experiencing innovation through the lens of STEM. Many of us in this field know that STEM has loomed large in our work because our world needs out-of-the-box ideas for out-of-this-world challenges.
STEM, however, has another side. To truly create, to revolutionize the ordinary, it requires one to have self-confidence, to thrive in teamwork, to problem-solve, communicate effectively, and to think critically, among other things. These are all real human conditions. The algorithms, math, hardware, physics, engineering, computer science, and artificial intelligence behind breakthrough discoveries like those spearheaded by Elon Musk and his teams require a person to be emotionally, socially, and physically prepared for the failures and successes of attempting to reimagine and change our world. After-School All-Stars has come to understand this dynamic as “being before doing.” The idea is simple. Organizations like ours should focus on the development of powerful, empathetic human beings. Because by becoming an emotionally connected individual, our young people can thrive in any setting. We’re not alone in this philosophy. The Washington Post recently reported on a 2013 Google study of its hiring, firing, and promotion data since 1998. The study, Project Oxygen, sought to identify key skills and behaviors in the company’s managers. Surprisingly, the data revealed that among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top leaders and managers, STEM expertise came in last. Instead, the skills and behaviors at the very top of the list include:
- Communicating and listening well
- Possessing different values and points of view
- Having empathy toward others
- Being a good critical thinker
- Making connections across complex ideas
There’s no doubt that academic preparation is essential. There’s no denying the role of STEM, and innovation in all its forms, to make our world a better place. That said, I encourage you to think back to your most recent video conference call experience. How did that go? In my experience, I’d say that in-person meetings still ROCK. A key component of that is the “PERSON” part. Let’s all play a part in helping our youth become awesome people, no matter what avenues they pursue in life. As for our friend Elon Musk, I can’t help but be equally moved by some recent footage of him running out to see one of his reusable rockets land back on earth. The gleam in his eye was coupled with tears of a different sort. We should start a new hashtag to show what innovation is about…#STEMisbeingakidagain
For breakfast, I had a potato, egg, and bean breakfast burrito, and of course, coffee!
Editor’s Note: This blog has been reposted with permission from After-School All-Stars.